Solutions are like antiques - provenance is all. It can look right; it can feel right; it can smell right; it can tick all the logic boxes but it can still turn out to be a fake if you can't prove that it came from the right place. If your way of inventing solutions doesn't involve the people they're meant for, you're in for a rough ride.
After years of wasting money on lawn treatments; miracle granules of one sort or another promising to transform our Ypres-like landscape into verdant weed-free bowling greens, I decided to get some help. I called the number on the card that had dropped through my letterbox a few days before. It promised to maintain my lawn for me more cheaply than I could do it myself. Fat chance!
Nevertheless, an appointment was set and the diagnostician duly turned up to do her stuff. She poked and prodded the patient, took soil samples, and generally had a whole conversation with the lawn along the lines of "I bet you haven't been watered today have you", and "Oooh, you haven't had any fertilizer for years have you - poor thing". Anyway, this tea and sympathy thing went on for about fifteen minutes. She then took her measurements and gave the prognosis. "We can't do miracles but we'll do our best." Sure enough, the patient recovered quickly and is now a spectacle to behold: lots of grass, very little mud, no moles.
Projects are very rarely simply exercises of coming up with a solution and then getting people to do it or buy into it. In fact, I'll stick my neck out: they never are. I had decided to fix the lawn and had not consulted my wife or the children. I had assumed that they would be pleased with the outcome - and indeed they were. But I hadn't needed them to change or to co-operate; it was one of those rare projects were the results were enough. And yet, even in this case, the cracks are showing in my project management. I constantly have to police the lawn, patrolling for paddling pools left in situ for more than a couple of days and for stones plucked from flower beds to make 'really nice shapes on the grass'.
Taking a solution and presenting it to a group, of any size, for implementation or even mere acceptance is a risky business because the implementer never really knows what will happen next. You might intensely dislike being told what to do by someone you've never met; I might refuse to take action merely based upon the fact that I do know the person responsible for the change. Some of our colleagues might down tools merely because they haven't been consulted whilst others might refuse to act on the basis that they just disagree with the decision.
The success of any intervention is not really linked to the intrinsic quality of the idea and it's not in slick execution either. The basis for success lies in the degree to which you have managed to get the subjects for the intervention seriously interested in the problem to begin with. It's only then that you can start to think about inviting them to create a solution. Starbucks employ the notion of the 'servant leader': I, your designated leader, am there to enable you to do your job - I am at your service so that you can be of service to our customers.
I would suggest that change agents of all shapes and sizes might cast themselves in a similar role: I am here to help you to think about and formulate the solution to a problem; you have the solution and I will help you to discover it. You and your colleagues call the shots and I'll let you know if I hear any alarm bells.
So, if you hear a project leader talking about 'buy-in', unless they're talking about some good coffee, they've probably already missed the buy-in boat. Getting people on board is primarily a function of gaining their interest in the problem; they'll take much better care of the solution than you or I ever can.